Les Chouquettes
If you are anything like me, and I really hope you aren't for your own sake, you go on these obsessive little tangents. Early in my life these were reading obsessions, all the plays of George Bernard Shaw's plays AND THEIR INTRODUCTIONS (Oh.The. Pain). The entire Grimm's Fairytales. Everything Kurt Vonnegut wrote. Now my obsessions are more varied-knitting socks, crocheting a cthulhu bathmitt, reaching level 60 at WoW, and baking. Who can say what captures my fevered brain's attention, but once the fever catches I am on, for all intensive purposes, a maniacal obsession of epic proportions to achieve my goal. For example when I came across David Lebovitz's blog, I immediately went to Kitchen Arts and Letters and bought the Sweet Life in Paris. As someone who loves French cooking, who longs to be an expatriot, AND who has the roughest possible draft of a Parisian travelogue, I justified this purchase as "research." David's style is easy so I devoured the book in hours.

Early on in the book I became obsessed with a recipe called Chouquettes Aux Pepites de Chocolate or "Cream Puffs with Chocolate Chips." Part of what immediately filled me with excitement was due to the simplicity of the recipe, I had all the ingredients save ONE. David was quite adamant that the chouquettes had to be topped with "Pearl sugar-large, white irregularly chaped chunks of sugar (roughly the size of small peas)" which he claimed was available from King Arthur Flour.

Indeed it was, but it would cost me about ten bucks to get 2 ounces of the stuff and while I was insanely obsessed, well, I was hesitant to fork over the cash. Besides, this is freakin' NYC right? I should be able to get "pearl sugar."

Sure.

Williams Sonoma-they have pink mexican crystal salt, but no pearl sugar. Neither does Eli's. Broadway Panhandler? When I called, they didn't even KNOW what I was talking about. Luckily, I discovered another blogger was just as obsessed as I was and she was NYC based! Smitten Kitchen wrote a post about Chouquettes partially inspired by David, and at the end of the post she let me know that the NY Cake and Bake store (the Sacre Couer of Cake Baking supplies to my heart) So off I went to NY Cake and Bake, and not only did I discover pearl sugar, but I discovered it in several colors so I purchased it in plain, hot pink, and rainbow. The colors themselves would make me happy.

Which is good, because as I detailed, despite my slavish attention to detail my chouquettes turned into "fluffy chocolate chip cookies"! Sure, people still thought them delish, but I was crushed. AND I had wasted some seriously high quality butter.

So I did what any brilliant person does when an utterly inexplicable failure hits them....Well after the crying and drinking of vodka. I called someone knows better than I do.

Much like Socrates, my so called intelligence rests mainly on my knowing who to call about what. I've got a great rolodex-need to know about orthopedic pediatric podiatry? a good brunch place in New Orleans? the literary term for a being who travels between different realms of existence? baudrilliard's theory on sign and simulacra? when blood oranges are in season? Give me a minute and I'll get you the answer.

So I emailed my good friend Bakerina. I described my problem in detail and asked for her help and despite the fact that she is law school, she sent me back a page and a half long detailed analysis. After reading the comments at Smitten's blog, I saw many people had similar issues with the recipe (even Smitten's dough was a bit "runny"). And let me tell you Bakerina's corrections fixed my chouquettes so that they were they HIT of my mother's asshat boyfriend's daugher's birthday. Did you get that? My mother's bf, who I hate, has a daughter, who I like. For her birthday, I made the chouquettes. This was a grand success because 1 it was one of the few dishes asshat doesn't KNOW how to make so he couldn't talk about how he would make them better (he thinks himself an expert in the kitchen even though he over salted the pesto until it was inedible this weekend) 2 as the ex husband of a Parisian he prides himself on French cooking so a second HAHA in my court. And finally, I was glad the daughter liked her "present" which were tasty indeed and every girl should have decadent Parisian fresh baked goodness on her 21st birthday. If only I had an appropriately hot garcon on hand to present them to her, it would have been the perfect present.

Unfortunately, I did not think to get pictures of the second set of chouquettes (only the failed ones) so I'll just have to make more (sigh) and post them here.

Still I thought I would share with you David's recipe with Bakerina's corrections so if you get filled with my mania you will not have to waste the quality butter that I did on the first batch. I've added Bakerina's corrections in purple. I recommend with ever fiber of my being that you pay close attention to her corrections.

Chouquettes Aux Pepits de Chocolate

Makes about 25 Puffs

1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup flour
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup pearl sugar

1. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. While David instructs the reader to heat the water, salt, sugar, and butter-Bakerina insists that you BOIL them. According to her, "this is a critical difference. If you cook till the butter is melted, your sugar will probably be dissolved, but it also might not be. When you cook to boiling, there's no doubt about it."

3. At this point David instructs the reader to remove the mixture from the heat and add the flour. Bakerina again adds critical information, "Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the flour to combine, AND put it *back* on the oven, and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat for four minutes. The goal is not just to have it pull away from the sides of the pan, but also to coat the pan a little bit on the bottom. Your flour/liquid mix is now called 'panade' in French, and this step is known as roasting the panade."

4. Allow dough to cool for two minutes, then briskly beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth and shiny.

Again, a direction that SEEMS simple enough, but benefits from Bakerina's more exacting eye.

"David tells you to beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the dough is smooth and shiny. The thing is, dough is a funny beast, and sometimes 'smooth and shiny' isn't enough, and sometimes you need more or less egg depending on the size of the eggs you are using. So we were told that whenever we were presented with a choux recipe, to hold back one egg in the beating, then do a pinch test, pulling off a piece of dough with my thumb and forefinger, then moving my fingers apart. If the dough stretches between them, it's done. If the dough breaks into clumps, you need the other egg. Beat it in well. Do another pinch test if you want, but that should do it."

(This is precisely where my chouquettes went wrong so if you ignore ALL of the other advice, I would definitely do the pinch test.)

OK now the recipe pans out as David writes it:

"Using two spoons, scoop up a mound of dough with one spoon roughly the size of a walnut and scrape it off with the other spoon onto the baking sheet." ( I pulled this off with one spoon, but my "mounds" weren't very delicate or rounded.) "Place the mounds evenly-spaced apart on the baking sheet. Press coarse sugar crystals and chocolate chips over the top and sides of each mound. Use a lot. Once the puffs expand rise, you'll appreciate the extra effort (and sugar.)

Bake the cream puffs for 35 minutes, or until puffed and well-browned.

(If you want to make them crispier, you can poke a hole in the side with a knife after you take So them out of the oven to let the steam escape.)"

So there you have it. While I thought them a delicious dessert, the chocolate reminded me of pain au chocolat and so they might be just the things for a decadent brunch with some cafe au lait served in a big bowl!

This entire recipe and the resulting debacle and success reminded me that Julie Powell was utterly brilliant in her assertion that there is a difference between EASY and SIMPLE. Chouquettes are SIMPLE, but EASY-but they are WORTH IT.

Trust me and enjoy!

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